Biscuit Brain Trust Reject

Biscuits are good, right? I gotta start paying better attention.

There are things food writers in their right minds and based in the South should just not own up to in print. And this is one of them: I don’t particularly care about... biscuits.

This is not to be confused with, “I don’t really care for biscuits.” They’re okay I guess—assuming we mean the round flour things that seem to come with the meal hereabouts—as long as the margarine in them is melted. But biscuits are not on my food radar. I don’t make them, I don’t crave them, I don’t notice who has good ones.

John Craig, though, he might be my karmic biscuit complement. He lays no claim to being a foodie, in fact he is a business guy, president of the Market Square District Association.

But he pays careful attention to biscuits, has since he was a kid living somewhere in West Hills. And now he is the force behind Knoxville’s International Biscuit Festival, scheduled for June 5; the grand scheme will be announced at a press event sometime next week.

“Who doesn’t love a biscuit?” is the motto for the festival, and it’s the first thing Craig has to say on the topic, too. Followed by, “It’s a great food, an essential Southern food.”

He doesn’t pause for a second when I ask if he prefers biscuits and gravy, or cheddar biscuits with seafood, or biscuits with soup at lunch. “Yes. Biscuits. All.”

Does he bake them himself? “I just made a batch yesterday,” he tells me.

Craig’s grandmother, Lena Belle Craig, showed him how. “She pretty much stuck to the basic White Lily recipe, though she’d occasionally go out of the box and do cat-head biscuits.” (Sadly, my history of biscuit complacence required me to turn this term over to an Internet search engine. They’re called this because they are supposed to be as big as a cat’s head!)

Lena Belle, who grew up in Williamsburg, Ky., didn’t know how to cook anything when she married his grandfather and moved to Knoxville. “I remember she said her first biscuits were, ‘Horrible, horrible,’” says Craig. “But then her mother-in-law ended up teaching her, and she ended up teaching me.”

That is probably my missing biscuit link. The only biscuit knowledge we passed down in my Williamsburg, Va. clan was how to properly rap the can of Hungry Jack dough against the shiny metal refrigerator door handle so it would open with a satisfying “pop.”

His grandmother passed away about 10 years ago, but Lena Belle would probably be proud of Craig and his biscuit festival. He says the idea first started with fellow Knoxville promoters Mickey Mallonee and Robin Hamilton egging him on. They’re still part of this event’s Biscuit Brain Trust. “That’s what we call ourselves,” he says. “There’s a lot of alliteration in this event.”

I don’t think I’m going to be invited to be in the BBT. I’m too honest—told John Craig there was only one biscuit I could remember that seemed worth crossing the street for, a hearty-nutty sweet-dense but not heavy whole wheat biscuit. And it’s not even from around here, but was served (and is still served) at the Bluebird Cafe in Athens, Ga., after some University of Virginia college friends and I waited on a sidewalk to be seated for, like, 45 minutes.

Yep, sorry, I can only come up with another state’s biscuit from too many years back to mention. But this did not bother our biscuit man John Craig.

“That’s what’s great,” he says. “Everyone has their own favorite memory—biscuits are one of those things that bring people together.”

I’ll agree to that. But let me state for the record, I’m still never going to like biscuits and gravy.


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Comments » 1

wldockery writes:

You need not be apologetic, Rose. We're at our best when we appreciate differences, even when we don't understand them.

I know people who look at a beautiful sunset and notice that the clouds obscure the sun, who hold a newborn and think only of poopy diapers, who look at half a glass of beer and mourn the half that is gone. So I'm prepared to accept that you might look at a plate of scratch biscuits doused in steaming sawmill gravy and turn away in disgust. There are people like that.

Obviously you do not succumb to the olfactory and gustatory pleasures of the dish, so I need not list those; but you should pay attention to other positives. There are medicinal uses.

When I have a sore throat, I always treat it with biscuits and gravy -- the warm gravy is soothing to raw tissues, and the compliant bread is the perfect medium of application. Even when I think I might be coming down with throat issues in the next three or four weeks, I'll take a dose prophylactically. B&G is also a very effective treatment for anorexia, despite the side effects -- obesity, diabetes, heart disease.

But there are other important uses for biscuits. Put a piece of country-fried steak on one or a piece of sugar-cured ham and a slice of tomato. Use them to push the last of the okra and fried corn onto the fork. Or dress them with brown-sugar syrup and butter. With such a versatile provision, one could survive the Depression. Many did.

Nevertheless, I applaud your iconoclasm. Were it not for people like you, the bell curve would cease to curve, lose its extremes, and turn into a square blob with no meaning. And that's a service to our society, I think.


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